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Labor Militancy in South Korea

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Korea has adopted the labor institutions of Japan, which are noted for ensuring industrial peace unparalleled elsewhere, fostering worker-management cooperation: company unionism, no temporary layoffs, synchronized annual contracts, seniority-based wages, and the bonus system. Yet the labor relations in Korea have been turbulent for the last 15 years, with its strike intensity exceeding that of any industrialized country during most of that period. Why is labor so militant in South Korea? This research identifies two types of factors responsible for Korean labor militancy. First are sociopolitical factors: abrupt decontrol of labor relations in 1987 for which labor and management were and continue to be ill prepared, and the dominance of the age-cohort of young, assertive workers in the workforce. The second factor is that Korean industrial policy and structure are shown to encourage union militancy as an unintended consequence.
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Keywords: J51; J53; Korean labor militancy; industrial policy and structure; strike

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: State University of New York at Binghamton

Publication date: June 1, 2005

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